Senate passes veto-proof farm bill
Congress poised to override President Bush for only the second time.
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The White House says reforms to traditional crop-subsidy programs, including subsidies to the wealthiest farmers, didn't go far enough.Skip to next paragraph
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"At a time of record farm income and rising food prices, Congress has failed to reform our farm policy. Instead, they have asked the American taxpayer to pay more in subsidies for wealthy farmers," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel after Thursday's Senate vote. "This bloated bill includes special interest earmarks and uses budget gimmicks to hide massive new spending. The president will veto it."
Although a majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate voted against the White House, Senator Burr says the threat of a presidential veto did have an influence on the final product. For example, the White House called for a cap on the adjusted gross income of $200,000 for farmers to qualify for subsidy payments, down from $2.5 million in the 2002 farm bill. Congress voted for a cap of $750,000 in farm income per individual and $1.5 million for a couple. The eligibility limit for nonfarm income is $500,000 per individual.
But critics note that that is not a hard cap: There are other farm-program benefits that these individuals are eligible to receive. "We think that it's great when farmers are successful, but at some point they should graduate from farm subsidies," said Mr. Stanzel, the White House spokesman.
The bill also reworks the nation's disaster-relief policy by creating a permanent disaster program. Currently, ranchers and farmers have to wait several years before receiving assistance after droughts or flood – typically, after Congress passes ad hoc disaster programs. The proposed $3.8 billion Disaster Trust Fund aims to provide more timely payments after weather-related events.
"This farm bill continues a set of antiquated programs that send a majority of payments only to farmers earning over $200,000 a year," said Sen. Richard Lugar, a former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "While it is true that subsidies are only part of the overall bill, Congress should not accept these outmoded policies in order to move along other priorities. The fiscal, food and trade policy costs are too great and too damaging."